Why Plans Fail

At 2:30 AM I finally crawled out of bed. I hadn't slept at all. The throbbing in my head and neck couldn't be curbed with any amount of pain reliever. The focus of the pain seemed to radiate from my left sinus. For a week I had tried rinses, drops, and every other remedy I could find, but nothing seemed to help. Sitting in my studio with my elbows on my desk and my head in my hands, I was close to tears. It was time to see a doctor.


After hearing me describe the pain, before she even examined me, the doctor said, "You need to see your dentist." My dentist? "The problem is in your mouth." Huh? There was some referring pain in my mouth, but mostly it hurt up under my cheekbone. My neck hurt, too. How could tooth pain affect my neck?


"Are you under a lot of stress?" the dentist asked when I described the pain.


"Well, yes," I said.


"That's you're problem."


Stress is causing my teeth to do something I can't feel that's generating pain in my sinuses and neck? That doesn't make any sense.


"You're grinding and clenching your teeth from the stress and it's radiating to those other places. It's especially bad when you try to sleep." he explained. "We can make you a mouth guard to wear at night. It'll cost about $800. Or you could cut the amount of stress in your life."


While there wasn't much I could do to cut the amount of stress in my life, I decided to be more proactive about how I handled it. I began paying more attention to how I was feeling, how I was responding, and spent more time praying through the challenges I was facing.


Guess what? The pain went away. No mouth guard needed.



Barcanic Rule #9 states "Without a proper diagnosis of the problem, any proposed solution is likely to fail." What if the doctor had assumed I was right and the pain was coming from my sinuses? Much effort and money would have been spent on testing, medicine, and treatment with zero impact. Unfortunately, this is often what happens when we plan.


The number one reason plans fail is that the planners have failed to properly diagnose the problem.

In fact, a great many plans are developed without paying any attention at all to the root challenge. As a leader and consultant I'm constantly asking and re-asking, "What problem are we solving for?" Until we can answer that question, all the goals, metrics, and innovation in the world won't help, and could possibly hurt.


Observation, examination, questions, analysis ... there are many ways to get at the root of the problem, but until we know for sure what it is, no amount of great ideas and activity will bring success.

In lieu of comments, The Change-Maker receives and periodically publishes letters to the editor. If you'd like to submit one, please click here. We look forward to reading your feedback. Thank you.